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DATE: May 3, 2005

'Designated hitter' rule doesn't lead to more beanballs, according to analysis by UM-Dearborn management professor

DEARBORN---Since the American League introduced the designated hitter rule in 1973, most baseball fans have assumed that it has led to more AL batters being hit by pitches because the pitchers don't face retribution since they almost never come to the plate.

UM-Dearborn Prof. Lee Freeman plays on the historically correct "Lah-De-Dahs Historic Base Ball Club" at Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

Well, most baseball fans are wrong, according to Lee Freeman, assistant professor of management information systems at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Freeman is the author of a study titled "The Effect of the Designated Hitter Rule on Hit Batsmen" published in the 2004 volume of The Baseball Research Journal.

"A number of research papers have looked at this issue from various economic theories, including moral hazard theory and retribution theory, and have concluded that the claim is true," Freeman said. "I take a different look at the baseball statistics and reach a different conclusion."

In addition to his teaching and research on systems development, information-systems security and information-systems ethics, Freeman is an avid baseball fan. He follows the Chicago Cubs and plays on the historically correct (based on the rules from 1867) "Lah-De-Dahs Historic Base Ball Club" at Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

For those who don't follow baseball, the designated hitter rule allows a team to replace its pitcher in the batting order with any other player, usually a stronger hitter, who then doesn't play a position in the field. Since its introduction, the designated hitter rule has been adopted by nearly all of organized baseball from the high school level through the professional ranks, except in the National League.

Freeman playing catcher during a game at Greenfield Village.

One of the long-standing and well-recognized traditions of baseball says that if a pitcher hits a player on the other team with a thrown ball, the other team's pitcher can be expected to retaliate.

Earlier studies have concluded "that there was a moral hazard in the AL as a result of the pitchers not batting and therefore not facing possible personal retribution for their actions," Freeman said. "From an economic perspective, NL pitchers bear more of the costs of their actions."

As with most discussions in baseball, there is statistical support for the idea that more AL batters were hit by pitches after the DH rule was introduced. One study cited 18 years of data to show that AL batters were hit by pitches at rates 10 percent to 15 percent higher than NL batters.

Other studies agreed with the data but disagreed with the 'moral hazard' theory, substituting a cost-benefit analysis. "They argued that more batters are hit in the AL because there are more benefits to hitting a DH than hitting a pitcher, as the DH will likely do more damage offensively," Freeman said.

Freeman signs an autograph for a young fan after a game.

The UM-Dearborn scholar took his own look at the numbers, using standard statistical tests, and came out with a fresh look.

He began with the notion that since the introduction of the DH, AL teams send a line-up of nine "true hitters" to the plate during the course of the game, while NL teams have a line-up of only eight true hitters, not counting their pitcher.

As a result, AL teams send approximately 12.5 percent more "true hitters" to the plate in any given game. "With an increase in the number of 'true hitters' that a pitcher has to face, there should be an increase in the number of hit batsmen in the AL, and the data show this is true," Freeman said. But the increase is only 12.2 percent, and can be explained by the extra "true hitters" in the game in the AL.

When examined in that perspective, "there are no significant differences in either league or in the differences between the leagues," Freeman said.





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